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The Presidents of
the University of Chicago

A Centennial View
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Mason greeting students, 1925

Max Mason greeting students, Chicago Daily News, August 29, 1925. Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Sun-Times.




Billings Hospital, ca. 1927

Albert Merritt Billings Hospital, ca. 1927. The culmination of more than ten years of fundraising and planning, Billings Hospital was the first unit of the University's medical complex to be completed.

Max Mason


President 1925-1928

When Ernest Burton died in 1925, the trustees recognized that he was the last member of the original generation of faculty members who could serve as chief executive. Looking for a new president outside the University for the first time, the trustees sought someone young and energetic, having solid credentials and commitment to research, but with strong sympathies for students and able to make effective public appearances.

After considering a number of well-known university and college presidents, the trustees found their man a short distance north in Madison, Wisconsin. Charles Max Mason, a mathematical physicist at the University of Wisconsin, had little experience in university administration, but received high praise from his faculty colleagues. He had managed a huge research team during World War I to develop submarine detectors. And, he was a vigorous competitor on the golf course, to the surprise and delight of some of the University's benefactors.

Mason grew up in Madison and attended the University of Wisconsin. He was a champion high-jumper, enjoyed sailing, canoeing, and skating, played bridge and billiards, and later learned to play the violin. In college he took an interest in mathematics, and after teaching high school for a year in Beloit, travelled to Göttingen to study for his doctorate with David Hilbert, one of the most influential mathematicians of the early twentieth century. When he presented an elegant solution for his dissertation topic in only two pages, Hilbert said it was not sufficient to earn a degree and gave him a more difficult problem. After several months of work, Mason saw the solution in a dream one night and wrote it up when he awoke.

It has been decided that the University of Chicago is to be always in a period of development.

Max Mason

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